The state of Jammu Kashmir will see elections being conducted to the state assembly in five phases starting from November 25th to December 20th considering the volatile political scenario here. Two days before voting begins, it is but clear that the race is between the PDP and the BJP. The Congress and its erstwhile partner - the NC are facing the heat and are unlikely to pose any serious challenge to the above mentioned main contenders. Here is a look at the issues that could decide who will win the upcoming elections in India's northern most state.
After ruling Jammu Kashmir in a coalition for the last six years, the National Conference (NC) and the Congress are facing massive anti-incumbency. As the polls are coming closer, there has been an exodus of high profile names from both these outfits. NC's candidate from Anantnag - Mehboob Baig whose family has had deep ties with the Abdullahs in the past has backed out from his contest against PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Another senior NC leader Sheikh Ghulam Rasool who was instrumental in CM Omar Abdullah's victory from Ganderbal constituency in 2008 too has joined the Muftis. Meanwhile, Ajatshatru Singh - the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Jammu Kashmir has joined the BJP. In a major blow to the NC, former CM and Omar's dad Farooq will not be campaigning for the party as he is unwell. In the Congress camp, two of its biggest leaders - Saifudin Soz and Ghulam Nabi Azad are believed to be reluctant to contest polls. The many corruption scandals that have rocked the Omar regime in its present term and devastation caused by the floods this September have only made the matters worse.
The Armed Forces Special Power's Act (AFSPA) which has been imposed in the state since 1990s is an emotive issue here and there is a growing clamor to do away with it. Over the years, a large section of the populace in Kashmir and several international organizations have slammed the Indian government for using such a draconian law to suppress the voices of the people in the region. The unfortunate death of two youths from Budgam in firing in Chattergam on 3rd November has reignited the whole debate regarding this Act in spite of the army accepting that the whole incident was a mistake. The two major state parties - the NC as well as the People's Democratic Party (PDP) have always opposed it and are likely to raise this issue in the days to come to gather support while the national outfits see it as a 'necessary evil'. Closely related to the AFSPA is the demand for more autonomy for J&K. Interestingly, the BJP which was vocal in its opposition to Article 370 granting special status to the state during the General Elections has refrained from talking about it.
It is believed that when the fourth Mughal Emperor Jehangir came to the Kashmir valley, he was so enamored by its beauty that he equated it to the heavens. It is such a pity that today, the valley has been infested with Pakistan based terror groups intent on forcefully snatching it from India. Even in the past, infiltrators who do not believe in the democratic process have called for a boycott and a strike on the day of the polls. The separatists too have asked the people to stay away from exercising their right to chose their representatives. It will be a big challenge for our security forces and the Election Commission to make sure that the elections are conducted peacefully and the militants do not succeed in their sinister designs.
Development was the agenda that catapulted Narendra Modi and the BJP to power in 2014 General Polls. After the success in May when it won 3 of the 6 parliamentary seats from the state, the saffron outfit is hopeful that the same issue will strike a chord in the local elections too, thereby helping it achieve 'Mission 44'. Jammu Kashmir is one of the few areas of the country where there is a large scope of improvement as far as infrastructure and employment opportunities are concerned. Terrorism and instability have meant that large corporate houses have stayed away from the state. The PDP too has raked this issue during the course of the campaign.
Lastly, the manner in which three regions of the state viz Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh vote may decide who ends up as the largest party in the state. With 40 odd MLAs being elected from the Valley, this area is the key to the fortunes of the PDP which won all three parliamentary seats from here in May. With the NC facing anti-incumbency, the Muftis are confident of a good showing here. The BJP too is desperate to make in roads in this part. In the last few months, there is a small section of the people who have been vocal in their support to the saffronists. In Jammu, the BJP is in the driver's seat though it faces significant opposiiton from the PDP as well as the Congress. In Ladakh, it is more or less a straight fight between the two main national parties.
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